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WTF? Tribune's Re-org

I'm all for reorganization. God knows, many of our larger news companies are excessively top-heavy with talented journalists left to multitask and multiplatform content.

I'll also say for the record that sometimes it takes a great disruption to make effective, positive change. The best thing for a company bereft of funds or lacking in innovation is to sweep out the decisionmakers and bring in a bright new team.

That brings us to Tribune Interactive. You've no doubt heard about the shakeup... I'm so far counting six new vice presidents of various interactivity. For example, Tom Davidson, formerly GM Hampton Roads, is the new guy in Baltimore. More specifically, he's "Vice President, Content for TI's Baltimore, Hartford, Allentown and Hampton Roads Markets."

This morning, I sent out a tweet about TI's move and immediately got eight direct messages, all from former Tribune employees, all questioning the staffing changes. One said, "there are now 12 former ClearChannel folks in the company. So much for diversity of background." Another started listing the various GMs who were let go last week.

One of those people was Tim Windsor, who had been VP and GM, Interactive at the Baltimore Sun. Say what you will about the paper... (Hell, I'll just say it here. We're down to 2.5 sections, and the front page now says something like "over a million Maryland residents served." Reminds me of McDonald's, which most people I know try to avoid.) But at one point, baltimoresun.com had a robust website.

I met with Tim a few years ago, just before Tribune was set to streamline their cms and web properties. Tim had worked with his team to do what they could with the cms they had, and they'd done a pretty darn good job. The site was robust, had lots of extra components, the ability to expand... There weren't yet the numerous inane "blogs" (read: print column republished to the website) or copius "local fashion" (read: posed magazine-style shoots) photo galleries.

But because of a new streamlined approach, Tim had to scale way back on interactive elements. It seemed like any innovation that might have been brewing was about to be lost at a news organization that was in desperate need of platform diversity.

Sam Zell's making headlines for bringing in non-newspaper people to run his newsrooms, and I don't necessarily disagree with that approach. What I don't get is all this reorganization, all these new titles. The effect that I'm seeing so far - which, by the way is what the consumer sees - is a dumbed-down version of Trib's websites and many of its newspaper properties. This doesn't make me rush to buy the Sun paper or to visit baltimoresun.com. It doesn't seem to be engendering an innovative sprit among staff. It's not making talented journalists clamor to get in the door at Trib-owned properties. (In fact, one person I know, who's spent the bulk of his career just trying to get into the Sun's newsroom, just left for a job at USA Today.)

I'm waiting for some mega-powerful, tricked out, interactive phoenix to rise from Trib's ashes. From my vantage point, I'm just watching the fire spread.


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